What does the social sector need to thrive?

The social sector needs: (1) support for its sustainability, (2) opportunities for learning, (3) strong relationships, and (4) influence.

Many in the infrastructure provide services and supports in more than one of these areas, and some of these areas build on and overlap with others, illustrating the interdependency of the social sector infrastructure ecosystem.

The examples of infrastructure activities and national providers below give a sense of the breadth and diversity of the infrastructure. The national providers represent those in the social sector, for-profit businesses, and public sector agencies. Inclusion as a provider does not indicate an endorsement of quality.

OperationsMission andtalentFinancial resourcesSustainability


Supports and services that advance the sector’s sustainability are critical for its formation, functioning, and survival.

These resources make it possible for social sector entities to work toward their missions.

Individual donations
Redistributed funds
Corporate and foundation grants
Impact investments
Donated goods
Government funding
Examples of Providers:
Knowledge disseminationKnowledge developmentEducation and trainingLearning


Supports and services that facilitate learning are critical for the growth, development, and reputation of the social sector.

These services help prepare people for their roles in the social sector.

Degree and certificate programs
Professional development workshops
Coaching and mentoring
Peer exchanges
Conference sessions
Learning collaboratives
Communities of practice
Examples of Providers:

These services involve creating, gathering, and presenting information relevant to the social sector.

Data collection
Data analysis
Case studies
Community-based research
Performance measurement
Community data resources
Examples of Providers:

These services involve sharing information widely in and outside the social sector.

Accreditation and standards
Social media
Examples of Providers:
Leadership developmentNetworksConveningsRelationships


Supports and services that build relationships are critical for cultivating connections and strengthening bonds of shared values and interests in and outside of the social sector.

These bring people in the social sector together to share experiences and knowledge and advance a common purpose.

Peer exchanges
Examples of Providers:

These connect organizations, groups, and people in the social sector.

Membership programs
Communities of practice
Examples of Providers:
AdvocacyCivic engagementCommunicationsInfluence


Supports and services that increase influence are important for broadening awareness about the social sector and ensuring its presence and voice throughout society, including in shaping public and private sector activity.

Inclusion as a provider does not indicate an endorsement of quality.

Project Credits

This interactive graphic of the constantly evolving social sector infrastructure was produced by the Urban Institute and George Mason University in 2021 and 2022.

  • Research Laura Tomasko, Faith Mitchell, Alan Abramson, Benjamin Soskis, Hannah Martin, and Kristen Kinneberg
  • Design and Development Mobility Labs
  • Editing Zach VeShancey

We would also like to thank Elizabeth Boris and Jesse Lecy for serving as senior advisors to this project, and Ren MacLean, Tanvi Punja, and Adam Goudjil for initial research assistance.

About This Project

This project is funded by New Venture Fund. We are grateful to them and to all our funders.

We appreciate the guidance we received from members of the Urban/GMU Social Sector Infrastructure Advisory Committee and the New Venture Fund–hosted Infrastructure Research Collaborative, a coordinated effort of funders and practitioners that supports our efforts to better understand the country’s social sector infrastructure.

To see a list of advisors, learn more about this project, and read publications associated with this study, see our project page.